Ahead of novelist Gillian Slovo’s appearance at 26’s Festival of Words, Wordstock on 8 October, we asked her to name her favourite novel.
“I would have said Vasilly Grossman’s ‘Life and Fate’ but given that it is currently all over Radio 4, people will think I am jumping on a band wagon, which I absolutely am not. I read Grossman’s book when I was researching my novel, Ice Road, set in Leningrad and I was bowled over the sheer scale of his book and the different worlds he inhabited. So, I will choose another Russian. Tolstoy, and not his war book, but ‘Anna Karenina’. This is a book I read and loved as a romantic teenager while projecting my fantasy of fiery, non-conforming woman meets dashing officer and they give up convention for love. And then I read it as adult and saw Vronsky as the unsatisfactory flake he is, and Anna as the narcissistic. And then I read it ten years after that, in preparing for my Russian book, and what grabbed, was not only that Tolstoy was as able to write as well about a woman’s frock, as the moment when the blood heats up for battle, but that there on the pages are a real understanding and exposition of the problems of the peasantry that would soon lead to the Russian revolution. I look forward to reading it again, and uncovering something else unexpected.”